The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.
Today, we take a look at the Orlando Magic.
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2019-20 season record
33-40, 8th in the Eastern Conference
Cole Anthony, No. 15 pick in 2020 NBA Draft
Dwayne Bacon, Free agency
Karim Mané, Undrafted free agent
D.J. Augustin, Free agency (Milwaukee Bucks)
Wes Iwundu, Free agency (Dallas Mavericks)
|PG||Markelle Fultz||Cole Anthony||Michael Carter-Williams|
|SG||Evan Fournier||Terrence Ross||Karim Mané|
|SF||Dwayne Bacon||James Ennis III||Chuma Okeke|
|PF||Aaron Gordon||Al-Farouq Aminu||Gary Clark|
|C||Nikola Vucevic||Khem Birch||Mo Bamba|
* Jonathan Isaac has been ruled out for the entire 2020-21 season with a torn ACL.
3 key storylines
Taking the next step in the playoffs
In 2018-19, the Magic ended a six-year playoff drought when they claimed the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. They stunned the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 by way of a D.J. Augustin game-winner but then lost four consecutive games to get eliminated from the playoffs.
In 2019-20, it was a similar story. Orlando claimed the No. 8 seed, facing off against the top team in the East in the Milwaukee Bucks. The Magic shocked the Bucks in Game 1 behind a monster 35-point double-double from All-Star centre Nikola Vucevic but then dropped four straight to be bounced from the playoffs.
Making the postseason in back-to-back years is a solid achievement - a feat that a group of teams in the league would consider they're most successful season(s) in years. But now that the Magic have proved they can get into the playoffs, what's next?
Without young defensive star Jonathan Isaac, who will miss the entire season with a torn ACL suffered in the bubble, Orlando won't get to see what its fully healthy roster looks like. While last year's first-round pick Chuma Okeke will make his debut this season, Mo Bamba's status is still uncertain after contracting the coronavirus back in June.
Steve Clifford, when asked about Mo Bamba: "There's no real timetable for him to be able to come back and fully participate. I think that he'll be able to do some things that are more organizational and everything. But he's a ways away, and there's no timetable on his return."- Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) December 1, 2020
Without key pieces of their young core, the Magic will be left wondering what they might look like at full potential. Can the core of Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier and key bench pieces Terrence Ross and Cole Anthony get this team back to the playoffs and, more importantly, out of the first round?
Will Aaron Gordon take the leap?
This seems like it has been a reoccurring question each year that Gordon has been in the NBA since being drafted fourth overall in 2014.
Year-over-year, we've seen Gordon make marginal improvements to his game but he has yet to leap into the superstardom expected for a top-five pick. Last season, his production as a whole showed some regression with averages of 14.4 points per game while shooting 43.7% from the field and 30.8% from 3 - both lower than the previous (2018-19) season. But those who were watching closely know that prior to the league's hiatus, Gordon was starting to put the pieces of his game together.
Averaging 17.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 46.6% from the field and 33.8% from beyond the arc following the All-Star break, Orlando was starting to see its young forward meet expectations. When the season returned in the bubble, Gordon then suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the final four seeding games and playoffs.
With nearly four months to recover, Gordon will be back to full strength to start the season. But will he be able to carry any momentum over from the end of his 2019-20 campaign to make strides in becoming the star player the Magic need him to be?
Backcourt of the future
If you flashed back to the year 2016 and told college and NBA scouts that Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony would share a backcourt in 2021, they would probably have told you it could be the best backcourt in the NBA.
Fultz was the No. 7 ranked prospect and No. 3 ranked guard in the class of 2016. Anthony was the No. 2 ranked prospect and No. 1 ranked guard in the class of 2019. Both were highly recruited and, at one point, expected to be No. 1 overall picks in their respective NBA draft classes.
Fultz, as you know, ended up going No. 1 overall in 2017. It was a bumpy road to get to where he's at now in his career but coming off of a solid season as the Magic's full-time starting point guard, it appears as though he's on his way towards becoming a solid NBA player. Averaging 12.1 points, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game, Fultz showed poise as a playmaker on offence while proving he can be a premiere perimeter defender.
Because Fultz does most of his damage attacking the basket, Orlando still had a void to be filled for a pure scoring shooter. That's where Anthony - the No. 15 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft - comes into play.
Anthony's draft stock dropped a bit after a disappointing start to his college career at North Carolina before a meniscus injury ended his one and only season. The scoring combo guard has made a full recovery and looks like his explosive self yet again, showing promise that Orlando could have locked up its backcourt of the future.
While Anthony will still be behind sharpshooting Evan Fournier in the rotation, the 20-year-old rookie will still see plenty of opportunities to prove he can be a franchise cornerstone moving forward.
5 games to watch
Dec. 26 at Washington Wizards
The Wizards were on the Magic's tail last season in pursuit of the No. 8 seed in the East and with the acquisition of Russell Westbrook, Washington will now be looking to swipe that playoff spot from Orlando. Each matchup between these division rivals holds more weight with the Wizards gunning for the postseason yet again.
Dec. 31 at Philadelphia 76ers
Markelle Fultz revenge game. The 76ers drafted Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but he only appeared in 33 games across two seasons before Philadelphia moved him to Orlando. Fultz has now found his footing with the Magic and will look to stick it to his former team.
Jan. 11 vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Magic took one game off of the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs last season before dropping four straight to be eliminated from the postseason. There's no better barometer for how competitive a team will be than a matchup against the top team in the conference.
Jan. 24 vs. Charlotte Hornets
Like the Wizards, the Hornets were also chasing the Magic for the final playoff spot last season. With Charlotte's busy offseason, drafting LaMelo Ball and adding Gordon Hayward, the Hornets are another team that will have playoff aspirations this season. Another division foe of Orlando, these contests will bear more meaning with both teams trying to grab a playoff spot.
Mar. 3 vs. Atlanta Hawks
This is going to sound like a broken record but the teams in the Southeast Division had a ton turnover this offseason, and the Hawks also fall under this umbrella of teams looking to make the playoffs. The Magic will have to fend off the Wizards, Hornets and now the Hawks if they're going to retain a playoff spot.
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